Olivia Vanni / The Herald
Members of the Arlington defense converge to tackle Marysville Pilchuck running back Dylan Carson during a game on Oct. 15 in Arlington.

Olivia Vanni / The Herald Members of the Arlington defense converge to tackle Marysville Pilchuck running back Dylan Carson during a game on Oct. 15 in Arlington.

Dominant defense keys Arlington’s run to 3A state playoffs

The Eagles enter the state playoffs with a suffocating defense that allows just 7.6 points per game.

The Arlington High School football team’s defense is full of film buffs.

But instead of analyzing the latest Spielberg movie, these Eagles can be found tirelessly studying all the intricate Xs and Os and tendencies of their upcoming opponent.

“As soon as we get the film, we’re in the film room,” Arlington senior defensive end Josh Snow said. “We’re on our computers watching film. It’s so funny — even during classes, I see guys on the team watching film whenever they have a chance.

“We study our opponent, and we know what they’re gonna do before they’re gonna do it.”

And what happens when that type of preparation is combined with well-crafted game plans from the coaching staff and a defense full of talent and experience?

For the Eagles, the result has been a shutdown unit that’s dominated opponents all season.

Arlington’s senior-laden defense has allowed just 7.6 points and 170 yards per game. As a team, the Eagles haven’t yielded more than 18 points or 289 yards in a contest. And they’ve held five of their nine opponents to single digits, including three shutouts.

But even those numbers — as impressive as they are — have been inflated by late-game scores against Arlington’s backups in blowout situations. In the first halves of their games, the Eagles have allowed a grand total of just seven points all season.

Arlington’s stingy defense is a major reason why the Eagles are in the state playoffs for the first time since 2012. No. 7 seed Arlington (8-1) hosts No. 10 seed Mt. Spokane (7-2) in a Class 3A first-round state playoff game Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve got 11 guys that are all perfect for their spot,” Arlington coach Greg Dailer said. “And it’s hard to say that any year, with any team, anywhere. Everyone plays their position great. … If you look at any of our positions, and I don’t see a weakness.”

Arlington’s Trenton Lamie and Wyatt Tilton celebrate during the game against Oak Harbor on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 in Arlington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington’s Trenton Lamie and Wyatt Tilton celebrate during the game against Oak Harbor on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 in Arlington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In recent years, the Eagles have been known more for their fast-paced spread offense. And they’ve certainly excelled on that side of the ball again this fall, with standout senior quarterback Trent Nobach leading a high-scoring attack that averages nearly 40 points per game.

But in Dailer’s previous 13 seasons at the helm, his Eagles never allowed less than 20 points per contest. This year, that number is in the single digits.

When asked if this is the best defense he’s ever had at Arlington, Dailer didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Yes. Yes.”

In a season full of standout defensive performances, the Eagles’ most impressive one came in their 28-14 win over eventual 3A No. 5 seed Marysville Pilchuck in Week 7.

No other team has even come close to slowing down the Tomahawks and their high-powered Slot-T ground attack this fall. Marysville Pilchuck has scored at least 49 points in each of its other nine games. And in those nine contests, the Tomahawks have averaged 404 yards per game and 12.7 yards per play.

But Arlington thoroughly bottled up Marysville Pilchuck’s explosive attack, limiting the Tomahawks to just 252 total yards and a mere 4.0 yards per play.

Dailer praised his longtime defensive coordinator, Judd Hunter, for devising an exceptional game plan.

“He came up with a great plan for them,” Dailer said. “And then the guys bought into it and executed it wonderfully. (We were) clicking on all cylinders from the top down.”

Snow and standout senior linebacker Quintin Yon-Wagner echoed that sentiment, crediting their success that night to the game plan and countless hours of film-watching.

“We spent hours and hours that week preparing, studying film,” Snow said. “We knew every formation (and) every play they ran out of that formation.”

“We called out probably 50 percent of their plays before they did it,” Yon-Wagner said after the game. “They did in-game adjustments, and we were ready for that too.”

And with how dominant the Eagles have been on defense all season, perhaps it’s fitting that they advanced to state with a shutout.

With its offense uncharacteristically sputtering for much of last week’s winner-to-state contest, Arlington rode a defensive masterpiece to a 35-0 blanking of Auburn Mountainview.

The Eagles surrendered just 94 total yards. They didn’t allow a first down until the final two minutes of the first half. And they finished with five sacks and three defensive takeaways, including a long fumble return for a touchdown.

“I think if it would’ve gotten into a shootout, we might’ve lost, because we were not clicking (offensively),” Dailer said. “And you wouldn’t know that necessarily by looking at the score, but we scored 35 points because our defense was just so dominant.

“So it’s just really, really nice to have a defense that just plays so well and puts us in great position on offense — even on nights when we aren’t really clicking.”

Last week’s shutout also showed that the Eagles can shut down a potent spread offense. The other top teams Arlington faces in the Wesco 3A North — Marysville Pilchuck, Ferndale and Stanwood — operate almost exclusively in variations of the run-heavy Wing-T.

“I think they made a statement tonight,” Dailer said of his defense after last week’s victory.

Arlington’s Josh Snow sacks Marysville-Pilchuck’s Jace Luton during the game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Arlington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington’s Josh Snow sacks Marysville-Pilchuck’s Jace Luton during the game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Arlington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington plays in a 3-5-3 defensive formation — with three defensive linemen, five linebackers and three defensive backs. The Eagles switched from a 3-4 defense to a 3-5-3 a few years ago, Dailer said, in order to put more defenders in the box against Wing-T opponents.

“To do well in our league, you have to defend the Wing-T,” he said.

Arlington’s stalwart defensive line consists of Snow, junior nose tackle Wyatt Tilton and sophomore defensive end Jeremy Fleming.

Snow set a single-season school record with 11 sacks — quite the accomplishment in a run-heavy league like the Wesco 3A North. Fleming has added two sacks. And so has Tilton, who draws double teams that open up opportunities for his teammates.

“Snow has become a phenomenal D-end,” Dailer said. “And Fleming has done a great job as a sophomore. He’s gonna be a heck of a player the next couple years. And Tilton — he’s just fantastic. The reason we’ve been successful against the run this year is because Tilton always has to be double-teamed. He’s just such a force in the middle there.”

The Eagles’ three inside linebackers are Yon-Wagner, junior Spencer Fischer and senior Eathan Jones. Yon-Wagner, a three-star recruit, is a game-changing talent. He suffered a torn ACL last fall and missed this past spring’s abbreviated season, but recovered in time to help anchor Arlington’s suffocating defense this fall.

“Quintin is one of the best players in the state, in my opinion,” Dailer said. “… It all starts in the middle there with Quintin.”

The senior duo of Luke Brown and Trenton Lamie man the outside linebacker spots. Andrew Bryant, another senior, also rotates in and has come up with two interceptions.

“Luke and Trenton both are really good tacklers,” Dailer said. “They hold the edge really well. No one’s gonna get to the outside with those two guys out there. And then Andrew has really come on strong. He’s had some really big plays for us.”

The Eagles’ secondary features senior defensive backs Ethan Martin, Hunter Eastman and Parker Duskin. Martin has a team-high four interceptions. Eastman, a versatile safety who excels at run-stopping and is the team’s second-leading tackler, has one interception and four pass breakups.

“They do a great job keeping the ceiling (of our defense) and not getting beat deep,” Dailer said.

“We call (Hunter) our stud,” he added. “He’s kind of like a sixth linebacker. He’s a phenomenal player … (and) a fantastic run-stopper.”

Arlington’s defense also benefits from years of continuity. Eight of the Eagles’ defensive starters are from a talented senior class that won youth championships together back in middle school.

“It really just comes down to this great group of kids,” Dailer said. “They’ve always succeeded, and they’re shining this year.”

And now, they’re eyeing a state playoff run.

“I think as a defense, we can take on anyone,” Snow said. “Just the mentality of the guys we have, I think we’re — I don’t want to say unstoppable — but it kind of feels that way with how everyone’s feeling right now.”

“We want to show,” Yon-Wagner added, “that we are the best defense in the state.”

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